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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Achieving Breakthrough Thinking in Group Settings

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

From my perspective…
An occasional blog on leadership, business strategy and healthcare industry insights

You can’t get there from here but, you can get here from there.
-       Axiom cited by Max & Gail Taylor, MGTaylor Corporation and inventors of the KnoWhere Store

Matt and Gail Taylor. Husband and wife. Architect and Montessori School teacher. Years ago, the Taylors set out to re-invent the way organizations address transformational change.  Like many, they found the typical change process too slow, too incremental and entirely too inefficient for dealing with the complex, interdisciplinary, real-world business problems faced by most organizations. Utilizing their experience in systems design and adult learning principles, Matt and Gail Taylor set out to re-invigorate the organizational change process. 

Taylors’ systems and models have since been used to achieve breakthrough thinking among large groups in an accelerated fashion. I have been personally blessed with the opportunity to experience and apply the Taylors’ ideas on several occasions, while at Ernst & Young and Cap Gemini, and in conjunction with Hufano & Associates, each of whom held license to employ the Taylors’ intellectual property.   MGTaylor-inspired “accelerated solutions environment” or “DesignShop” “events” often involved groups of 40-100 people from across the organization (and, in many cases, from outside suppliers or customers), addressing “mission-critical” challenges. In every case, breakthrough thinking supported by detailed plans and intense buy-in, was achieved in 3 (very grueling) days.

The Taylors’, and their “disciples”, liked to cite 14 axioms – self-evident truths – as the key for releasing group genius (a full list can be found here).  To wit: A mistake commonly made by business leaders embarking on a business change or strategy exercise is to begin at the current state of the business then, to project forward to the future state desired for the enterprise. Taylor’s axiom, cited above, provides a simple, memorable truism for why that pathway typically fails – you simply cannot get “there” from “here”.  While the reasons are many, three seem to pose the greatest challenges:

·      First, starting at the current state and projecting forward encourages linear thinking. In other words, we fall into the trap of extrapolating the future from the recent past.  In today’s turbulent, constantly-disrupted world, does any one truly believe that the future is an extrapolation of the past?
·     Second, we also “trap” ourselves into building a future state vision that maintains the very constraints that limit the organization today. We simply cannot envision a future free of these constraints when we use our existing, constrained model as a starting point.
·     Lastly, rather than releasing group genius to create new, breakthrough thinking, we harden existing points-of-view and protect positional power and the status quo.

A far superior approach involves starting with a “there” unconstrained by current realities.  We have used, frequently and with great success, a series of “Day In The (Future) Life” exercises with leadership teams to paint vivid and meaningful images of their desired future state. By having these images developed, first individually then, shared and iterated collectively, far richer and more powerful visions are created. The iterated vision of the future, constructed by building upon individual ideas and then pressing further, often is more powerful than anyone could foresee in advance.  Further, by removing the focus from the current state, individual biases and perceived constraints are washed out. In other words, the “group genius” is allowed to emerge. Without fail, the future state visions established for these organizations are more compelling and motivational than anyone thought possible.  As a bonus, once envisioned, the pathway between this desired future state and today becomes infinitely clearer – when viewed looking backward from the future. (For the golfers reading this: when playing a new course for the first time, how often have you looked backward after playing a hole and only then, seeing how the hole could have been played differently and more effectively?)

This example also highlights another of the 14 axioms – “To add someone’s experience to your experience—to create a new experience—is possibly valuable”.  Another – “The future is rational only in hindsight” – reminds us why imbedded biases and resistance to change (e.g., “that will never work here”) are so cancerous to achieving real progress.  Breakthrough thinking occurs when the full, latent potential of group genius is allowed to emerge.

Do yourself a favor.  Review the 14 axioms. Pick one or two and consider – how can explicit attention to these axioms in the design of your change process help the group genius to emerge, and breakthrough thinking to result?  Drop me an email and offer your perspective.

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